Tag Archives | customs

leave your shoes at the door


What it looks like when repairmen come to your house in Abu Dhabi:


Everybody’s shoes get left at the door–whether it’s friends stopping by for a visit or workers coming to see why the dishwasher spews water all over the kitchen floor.

And even if I say to the repairmen, “no, it’s okay, please keep your shoes on,” the guys nod and smile and leave their shoes at the door.  It’s not just repair crews, either–furniture delivery people pause at the doorstep to kick off their shoes, no matter what they’re carrying and no matter what I say; my cleaning lady does the chores barefoot.

Bare feet seem less intimate, somehow, than stocking feet.  Sometimes one of the maintenance guys will have a hole in his sock, sometimes the socks don’t match; it’s like a tiny glimpse into their lives.  It’s an oddly vulnerable thing, isn’t it, that toe poking out of a worn sock?

Seeing the shoes lined up outside a door–or just inside the door, next to the rack that holds the “inside shoes” (flip-flops, slippers, slides) is one of those small moments when I realize I’m very far from “home.”






Continue Reading · on November 5, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, exercise, Politics, UAE, What’s It Like?

expat, exefficient

In New York, I moved fast.

I knew how to work the lines at Trader Joe’s on 14th street so that I could be in and out in under 45 minutes; I knocked off my farmer’s market shopping early in the morning, before the shuffling herds came through taking pictures of picturesque radishes. (I took my arty roughage shots in my early morning rounds. I love a pretty beet as much as the next gal.)  Dry cleaning, school trips, doctors’ appointments, work meetings? Done, done, done, and done. I was one efficient Mannahatta Mamma: Things. Got. Done.

Now? Everything has slowed down. Time has blurred into one long hot swirl: our apartment only has one working clock, in the kitchen on the microwave; my phone’s battery is dying and so the clock keeps slipping back to New York time (unless can phones be homesick?) I never know exactly what time it is and even if I did, we don’t have anywhere to be.  The boys haven’t started school, I haven’t started work; it’s Ramadan and a sticky 115 degrees at midday, so the streets are quiet and lots of shops are closed until after sundown.

My sister, who lived for a few years in Paris, told me that the thing about being an expat is that everything takes a lot longer than you’re used to, and she’s absolutely right.  Being new anywhere, of course, means it takes twice as long to do the things you did at home, but the triple whammy of new city + new country + new culture has slowed me practically to a crawl.

So for instance the other day I went to a mall to scope out a store that sells skateboards (yes, Avril, there are sk8rboys in the UAE.)  Caleb has his heart set on a skateboard for his 7th birthday, thanks to the influence of his much-adored fifteen year old cousin Charlie. In a burst of inspiration, I found a skateboard store on a mall website and reminded myself to make sure that the mall was open in the afternoon, despite Ramadan. The mall was open, in fact, so I girded myself for the heat, found a cab, found the mall, found the store.

Which was closed. Mall open, store closed. Closed with no indication about when (or if) it would ever open.  Undaunted, I went to another store, looking for sheets. Closed.

Refusing to admit defeat, I went downstairs to Lulu’s, which is the huge “hypermarket” that is less expensive than Spinney’s (probably because Lulu’s doesn’t have the overhead of maintaining a pork room) and not as overwhelming as Carrefour, which as near as I can tell is a combination of K-Mart and Food Emporium.  Yes, it’s true, there have been any number of grocery store trips in the last week: big grocers are reliably open during Ramadan and I can stay inside playing Hearts with my kids for only so many hours before losing my mind.

So I tell myself that I can do some grocery shopping – get some staples, a few household items, and then I’d head home. I have a list, I like grocery stores, I can do this.

HAH. Continue Reading →

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Continue Reading · on August 21, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, expat, food, NYC, Travel, UAE

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